Ay Dios mio, that Josef Centeno is one lauded chef. His year-old Bäco Mercat has drawn raves from Jonathan Gold and Bon Appétit, as much for the spectacular international fare as for the fact that the penny-pinching Centeno washes his own windows.
Now he’s attempting to recreate the magic in his new downtown Bar Amá (just across the street from Bäco). He risked a sophomore slump by focusing on unfashionable Tex-Mex cooking, but his new joint is a bona fide hit, with food inspired by his San Antonio childhood. (The place is named for his grandmother.)
Start with the nopales-and-hearts-of-palm salad ($12), a heavenly shredded mess of cara cara oranges and quesillo cheese in a pleasantly acidic epazote-spiked dressing. Share the amberjack ceviche with chiles ($13)--and order a side of fresh chips to temper its heat. Don’t miss the puffy tacos, distended masa shells that come filled with everything from beef tongue ($14) to pork and pineapple ($11). And save room for the burned-caramel dulce de leche ($8).
With mouthwatering fare like this, we’d expect Chef Centeno to get a star complex. Nothing doing--on a recent afternoon, he anonymously bussed our table with a humble smile.
Bar Amá, 118 W. Fourth St.; 213-687-8002 or bar-ama.com